6 Lessons Learned From Old Inner Tube

Our single most valuable educational toy was an old inner tube tractor tire that taught 6 valuable lessons and helped raise kids on Summit Lake. Like my siblings and me, my children and their cousins drifted through every stage of childhood floating on that old black tube. Society keeps inventing more high-powered vehicles and electronic toys, but what kids really need is non-motorized, unstructured downtime to be bored and learn how to play.

Kids need non-micro managed moments to be kids. To sky gaze. To float. To doze. To drift. To dream.

That patched up piece of rubber provided endless hours of entertainment. It kept us adrift through the stormy waters of life by creating happy memories to sustain us during hard times. We passed on the art of living in the moment from one generation to the next.

On the water, we learned to share and take turns, balance and agility, team building and muscle making. Off the water that old tube taught us to slow down, relax, and savor stories. While grandma read a fairytales or grandpa recounted sagas of the Summit Lake ghost, kids perched on the side of the tube and learned to love stories.

Creativity. That old tire sparked their imagination. They once invented a new sport, Tubastics, which consisted of bouncing on a tube in the yard and jumping up off in perfect 10 point landing. That event inspired their first Summit Lake Olympics complete with an opening parade, special events, posters, prizes, and spectators.

Courage. Younger kids learned bravery by holding hands of an older cousin and jumping off the side of the tube into the dark, cold water.

Leadership. Older kids learned responsibilities by helping younger ones learn to jump, swim, and dive.

Balance. In a sequence of challenges, they tested their dexterity.

  • First step – standing alone on the tube.
  • Next test – balancing upright holding hands with a partner.
  • Add another cousin.
  • Plus a friend.
  • Grand finale – a big splash as the lake echoed with laughter.

As teens and young adults, their games required more skill. Pass and catch while standing on tube became a favorite. Then pass and catch in air while jumping off the tube was added to the repertoire.

Love of books. On windy days, when the tube absorbed heat from the sun it was warmest spot on the dock and perfect place to read. From Bernstein Bears, to Death on the Nile, from Harry Potter, to Lord of the Rings. Minds enlarged with one mystery after another. Story after story.

Peace of mind. Kids float through summers chilling out in quiet moments of stillness on a silvery lake that rocks in a crib of evergreen under powder blue skies.

Children grew up daydreaming about the doctors, nurses, teachers, engineers, coaches, and counselors and high-spirited, nature loving, compassionate adults they would one day become. Every summer we drift back in time releasing that inner child in a state of mindfulness.

Yep, blissed out on that black inner tube.

Happy 4th of July!

Posted in family, relationships.


  1. This is a priceless message and a great reminder to get back the the basics, Pat. Simplicity and mindfulness are antidotes in our high_tech world. Thank you for sharing! It connects me to the precious memories of our family cottage.

  2. Such simple pleasures and creativity all in one. Love the tubastics idea too! Some of the greatest fun my kids had was playing with their three-dimensional cardboard house that they began to make when they had no toys on a family visit. This expanded over time and became a deluxe home with swimming pool, paper characters etc. We brought it in a box with us to Australia ???? These kinds of simple play objects are often the best loved it seems…

    • Oh Rach, my kids build a cardboard house too. Do you think all children are born with creativity? Or is it something we nurture as creative parents? I am sure you are well aware as an expert in your field, that in part due to the electronic age, kids are losing their natural ability to play.

      • I think all human beings are born curious and that this leads to creativity in many fields if it is nurtured and guided by various others. Of course, our kids were spoiled by having teachers as parents who valued creativity and scaffolded it in many ways. Our technological age has adversely affected the amount of play that children engage in, but it offers different kinds of creativity too. Some that weren’t posssible before. We are considered a bit old-fashioned with our emphasis on healthy, creative and physical pursuits outdoors, but there is a return to this in some environments so I hear, especially with initiatives such as the Forest Schools. Why not make room for all different kinds of creativity? xx

  3. Love, love, love this blog and all the cherished memories it evokes. It doesn’t seem that long ago the kids were that little and now look at the wonderful, accomplished young adults they have become (the point behind your blog…I know). What a great reminder to all of us that sometimes the simplest things are truly the most valuable. Wish we still had that big old farm tractor inner tube.

    • Me too. And I must add a special aside to the blog that we are all grateful for those lessons learned and years of memories made on that old tractor tire that farmer boy Cliff provided to ensure the circle of love continued through the ages.

  4. What lovely memories! We use to go to a lake every summer as well and the memories are some of the best since my dad died when I was 15. We had a favorite camping spot when my kids were later and that’s where they grew up. Now that they are grown I take out those pictures and remember each and every one.

    • Isn’t it amazing how looking at those pictures can take us back in time and bring back that same carefree feeling of floating on a tube? So glad that you have those lake memories to solidify your family ties.

  5. Happy Fourth, Pat! Unstructured summer days are a big part of my past as well. Far be it from my folks to sit me and my sis in front of the TV and expect it to entertain us. No, we had to entertain ourselves, and therein lies a lot of creativity. Whether it was playing school on a chalkboard, reading to our dolls and stuffed animals, or gathering the neighbor kids together for a game of kickball or hide-n-seek, we found ways to stay busy and happy ALL summer long. Your post stirs up a lot of happy memories — thank you!

    • Glad you shared so many of those same happy childhood memories. Our parents must have thought a lot alike. Do you remember playing kick the can, ghost and sardines?

  6. There’s been a lot lately about letting kids be bored, how that inspires imagination. Now, when my grandkids tell me they’re bored, I say, “Good! It’s good for you to be bored. Now go invent something.” 😉

  7. Inner tubes are actually fun to play with and most kids use it in some Asian countries. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this topic.
    I love the tips of this post.

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